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Authors: Patricia Davids

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BOOK: A Home for Hannah
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Miriam blew out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“Not at all.” He was actually blushing.

Nick gave Miriam a funny look, then said, “Thanks, Doc.”

“I’ll draw some blood for those tests and I’ll have Amber follow up with this little girl just as she would one of her home deliveries. If you have any questions, feel free to call me. Day or night.”

He took a card from his pocket and scrawled a number on it. He handed it to Miriam. “This is my personal cell phone. Don’t hesitate to use it.”

She smiled at him. “I won’t hesitate for a minute.”

“Is there anything else?”

Miriam said, “She’s very fussy, Doctor, especially after she eats. I’m wondering if I should switch her to a soy-based formula.”

“You can certainly try that, but don’t make an abrupt switch. Mix the two together a few times until you gradually have all soy in her bottles.”

“All right. We’ll try that.”

“Fine. I’d like to see her again in two weeks. Sooner, if you have any concerns,” he added.

* * *

 

When the appointment ended, Nick scooped up Hannah’s carrier and held the door open for the doctor and Miriam to go out ahead of him. Outside the clinic, he handed the baby over to Miriam. She opened her rear car door and leaned in to secure the carrier.

He knew he shouldn’t say anything, but as usual, his good sense went missing where Miriam was concerned. “Doctor Zook seems quite taken with you.”

She popped up to gape at him. “What has that got to do with anything?”

“Nothing. It was a simple observation. I assume he isn’t married?”

“No, he isn’t, and I’m sure that is none of your business.”

He liked the way her eyes snapped when she was angry. If only her anger wasn’t always directed at him. He took a step back and raised his hands. “Don’t get all huffy.”

“I have every right to get huffy. What if I suggested Wilma had a crush on you?”

“Since she is old enough to be my grandmother, I’d say that would be weird.”

“There’s no talking to you. Now that you’ve been reassured Hannah is in good health, please go away. The less I see of you the better.”

He hid how much her words hurt and gave her an offhand salute. “As you wish.”

She rolled her eyes and turned her back on him to finish fastening Hannah’s car seat. She struggled to get the last buckle fastened.

He didn’t want to leave on a sour note, but he knew when he was butting his head against a brick wall where she was concerned. In spite of his best intentions, he couldn’t help making one parting comment. “That chip on your shoulder isn’t doing you any good, you know.”

She backed out of the car with a growl of exasperation. He nudged her aside, leaned in and deftly secured the baby. Straightening, he looked at Miriam and calmly said, “It isn’t going to do Hannah any good, either. We have a better chance of finding her mother if we work together.”

“I thought you were leaving town for a fishing trip?”

He gazed at her intently. “The fish can wait. Hannah shouldn’t have to.”

He wanted Miriam’s cooperation. He didn’t believe in coincidences, he still believed whoever left the baby with her knew she was a nurse. “Did you put together the list of families who know you’re a nurse, the way I asked?”

“Yes.” She dug into her purse and pulled out a handwritten sheet.

It was a short list. There were only seven names on it. It wouldn’t take long to interview these families. He looked at her. “I appreciate your cooperation.”

* * *

 

Miriam considered carefully before she spoke again. If Hannah’s mother didn’t come forward, there would be little she could do on her own to find her. Nick, on the other hand, had an entire crime-solving department at his beck and call. If he was willing to put some effort into finding the baby’s mother, Miriam shouldn’t be discouraging him. In the end, finding the young woman who needed her help took priority over her feelings for cooperating with Nick.

She said, “I have an idea how we can check lots of buggy tires in one place.”

He looked at her sharply. “How?”

“The day after tomorrow, Sunday preaching services will be held at Bishop Zook’s farm. Every family in his congregation will be there. Including all the people on that list. The younger men usually drive separately so they can escort their special girls home afterward. Why go farm to farm when there will be dozens of buggies in one place? It’s a start.”

“A good start. Still, his isn’t the only Amish church in the area. I can think of at least five others. I can try to find out where the other congregations are meeting. Tuesday is market day. That will be another opportunity for us if she hasn’t come forward by then.”

The thought of working with Nick should have left Miriam cold, but it didn’t. Instead, a strange excitement quickened her pulse. What was she getting herself into?

“I’ll see you Sunday,” he said and walked away.

When he reached his vehicle, he glanced back. She was still standing by her car watching him. An odd look of yearning crossed his face. It was gone so quickly she wondered if she imagined it.

What was he thinking when he gazed at her like that? Was he remembering happier days? She licked her lips and tucked her hair into place behind her ear. Did he think she had changed much? Did he still find her attractive?

The absurdness of the thought startled her. Why should she care what he saw when he looked at her? Impressing him should be the last thing on her mind. She walked around her car, got in quickly and drove away.

But no matter how fast she drove, thoughts of Nick stuck in her mind. She couldn’t outrun them.

Chapter Five

 

S
unday morning dawned bright and clear. Miriam
knew that because her mother was clanging pots and pans around in the kitchen before any light crept through Miriam’s window. The sounds echoed up the stairwell into her room because she had the door open to hear Hannah when she cried. She needn’t have bothered. Each time the baby fussed, Bella was beside Miriam’s bed five seconds later, nosing her mistress to get up.

Miriam’s mother had put a cot in the kitchen to sleep beside the baby’s crib, but Miriam had been the one to get up and feed the baby through the night. Her mother’s
intentions were good, but she needed her sleep, too. Tonight, Miriam would insist on taking the cot. That way she might get a little more sleep.

The soft sound of her mother humming reached Miriam’s ears. Ada was delighted her daughter was taking her to the Sunday preaching. Her mother might say she accepted that Miriam had left the Amish faith for good, but for Ada, that door was always open. Any former Amish who sought forgiveness would be welcomed back into the Amish fold with great joy.

Her mother hollered up the stairs. “You should feed the horse, Miriam. She will have a long day.”

Miriam groaned. Arriving at a church meeting in a car was unacceptable to Ada. Amish people walked or drove their buggies. End of discussion.

To keep her mother from trying to walk the six miles to Bishop Zook’s farm, Miriam would have to feed, water and hitch up their horse. She might be out of practice at harnessing the mare, but she hadn’t forgotten how to do it.

After dressing in work clothes, Miriam walked through the kitchen. At the front door, she waited for Bella to join her. “Come on, the baby’s not going to wake up for another two hours. I just fed her. This might be your only chance to spend time with me today because you are not coming with us to church.”

Bella reluctantly abandoned her post beneath the crib and trotted out the door Miriam held open. Her mother, looking brighter than Miriam had seen her in weeks, was mixing batter in a large bowl. “You’d best get a move on, child. I’ll not be late to services at the bishop’s
home. Esther Zook would never let me live it down.”

“I can’t understand why such a sweet man married that sour-faced woman.”

Ada chuckled, then struggled to keep a straight face. “It is not right to speak ill of others.”

“The truth is not ill,
Mamm,
it is the truth. There is only one reason I can think of why he fell for her.”

The two women looked at each other, and both said, “She’s must be a wondrous
goot
cook!”

Laughing, Ada turned back to the stove. “How many times did your father say those very words?”

“Every time he talked about his brother’s wife, Aunt Mae.”

“She was a homely woman, God rest her soul, but your
onkel
was a happy man married to her.” Ada spooned the batter into a muffin tin.

Miriam’s smile faded. “I miss Papa. He was a funny fellow.”


Ja.
He often made me laugh. God gave him a fine wit. You had better hurry and get the horse fed or these muffins will be cold by the time you get back.” Ada opened the oven door and slid the pan in.

Miriam walked outside into the cool air. Even after six months, she was still amazed by the stillness and freshness of a country morning. She scanned the lane for any sign of a returning buggy. It remained as empty as it had all night. She knew because she’d looked out her window often enough. Perhaps Hannah’s mother wouldn’t return. What would become of the baby then?

Had Nick had any luck lifting fingerprints from the note or hamper? Surely, he would have called if he had. She still found it hard to believe that he had agreed to leave the baby with them. Was he trying to make amends? Did he care that she hadn’t forgiven him?

Annoyed with herself for thinking about Nick once again, she hurried across the yard to finish her chores. In the barn, she quickly measured grain for the horse and took an old coffee can full to the henhouse. Opening the screen door, she sprinkled the grain for the brown-and-white-speckled hens. They clucked and cackled with satisfaction. She didn’t bother checking for eggs. She knew her mother had gathered them already.

By the time she returned to the house, hung up her jacket and washed up, her mother was dumping golden brown cornmeal muffins into a woven wooden basket lined with a white napkin. The smell of bacon filled the air and made Miriam’s stomach growl. A few more years of eating like this and she would be having her own heart attack.

“What was your blood sugar this morning?” Miriam snatched a muffin and bit into the warm crumbly goodness.

“104.”

Miriam fixed her mother with an unwavering stare. “Have you taken your medicine?”

“Ja.”

“Checked your blood pressure?”

“Ja.”

“What is your blood pressure this morning?”

Ada’s eyes narrowed. “Before or after my daughter began badgering me?”

Miriam didn’t blink. “Before.”

Ada rolled her eyes. “110 over 66, satisfied?”

Smiling broadly, Miriam nodded. “
Ja, Mamm dat
is very
goot.

“And we will be very late if you don’t hurry up and eat.” Her mother carried the empty muffin tin to the sink and then returned to the table. After bowing their heads in silent prayer, the woman began eating.

Ada asked, “Have you decided what to tell people about Hannah?”

“The truth is generally best. I will tell people she was left with us to care for until her mother returns.”

The baby began to fuss. Miriam reached over to her cradle, patted her back and adjusted her position.

Ada smiled. “She is such a darling child. I dread to think we might never see her again when her mother does come for her.”

Miriam remained silent, but the same concern had taken root in her mind, too. Hannah was quickly working her way into Miriam’s heart and into her life. Letting go of her wasn’t going to be easy.

* * *

 

Nick stopped his SUV near the end of the lane at the Zook farm. He knew the church members wouldn’t appreciate his arrival in a modern vehicle on their day of worship. He wasn’t here in an official capacity, so he wasn’t wearing his uniform. It was almost noon,
so he figured the service would be over and he would be in time for the meal.

Most Amish Sunday preaching lasted for three or four hours. The oratory workload was shared between the bishop and one or two ministers, none of whom had any formal training. They were, in fact, ordinary men whose names were among those suggested by the congregation for the position and then chosen by the drawing of lots. It was a lifelong assignment, one without pay or benefits of any kind.

Following the services that were held in homes or barns every other Sunday, the Amish women would feed everyone, clean up and spend much of the afternoon visiting with family and friends.

Approaching the large and rambling white house, Nick looked for Miriam among the women standing in groups outside of the bishop’s home. Their conversations died down when they spotted him. It was unusual to have an outsider show up in such a fashion. Although many people knew he had Amish family members, he was still an outsider and regarded with suspicion by many.

He gave everyone a friendly wave and finally spotted Miriam sitting on a quilt beneath a tree with a half dozen other young women. Hannah lay sleeping on the blanket beside her. He caught Miriam’s eye and tipped his head toward the house. He needed to pay his respects to Bishop Zook and the church elders before speaking with her. She nodded once in agreement and stayed put.

Inside the house, several walls had been removed to open the home up for the church meeting. The benches that had arrived that morning in a special wagon were now being rearranged to allow seating at makeshift tables. The bishop sat near the open door in one of the few armchairs in the room.

A small man with a long gray beard, he looked the part of a wise Amish elder. Nick knew him to be a fair and kind man. He rose to his feet when he saw Nick. Worry filled his eyes. “Sheriff, I hope you do not come among us with bad news.”

More than once, Nick had been the one to tell an Amish family that their loved ones had been involved in a collision with a car or truck. He often asked the bishop to accompany him when he brought the news that the accident had been fatal.

“I don’t bring bad news today, Bishop. I’m here to speak with Miriam Kauffman, and to give you greetings from my grandmother.”

“Ah, that is a relief. How is Betsy? I have not seen her for many months.”

“She’s well and busy with lots of great-grandchildren,
but not enough of them to keep her from trying to marry off the few of us who are still single.”

Bishop Zook chuckled. “She always did fancy herself something of a matchmaker. I believe Miriam is outside with some of our young mothers. The case of this abandoned babe is very troubling. I cannot think any of our young women would do such a thing.”

“I understand, but we have to ask.”

“We have several families who would be pleased to take the child into their homes.”

“Where the child is placed, if her mother doesn’t return, will be up to Social Services.”

“I feared as much. We would rather handle this ourselves. If the mother returns, the child will remain with her,
ja?

Nick didn’t want a string of hopeful women showing up and claiming to be Hannah’s mother. He needed to be very clear it wouldn’t be that easy. “Once we have proof, by a blood test, that she is the mother, and we can see that she is in a position to take care of the child, then yes, it is likely that Social Services will agree to her keeping the child. If you do come across information about the mother, please get word to Miriam or myself.”

“This is the Lord’s working. We offer our prayers for this troubled woman and for her child.”

“Thank you, Bishop.”

Nick glanced again to where Miriam sat surrounded by young Amish mothers with their babies. Except for a slight difference in her dress, Miriam could have been one of them.

She had been one of them. It had taken a lot to drive her away. What would it take to make her return? If she found it in her heart to forgive him for Mark’s death, would she return to the life she’d left behind?

The bishop said, “You will stay and eat with us this fine day,
ja?

Nick pulled his troubled gaze away from Miriam. “I would be honored, Bishop Zook. I hear your wife makes a fine peanut butter pie.”

“She made a dozen different pies yesterday, and chased me away with a spoon when I tried to sample one.”

“I hope for your sake there will be leftovers.”

There was never a lack of food at an Amish gathering. The makeshift tables were laden with home-baked bread, different kinds of cheese and cold cuts. There was
schmierkase,
a creamy, cottage cheese-like spread, sliced pickles, pickled beets, pretzels and, Nick’s favorite, a special peanut butter spread sweetened with molasses or marshmallow cream. He liked the marshmallow cream version the best. There were also a variety of cookies, brownies and other baked goods as well a rich black coffee to dunk them in.

A rumble deep in his stomach reminded Nick that breakfast had been hours ago. He had already visited two other church groups that morning and looked at dozens of buggy wheels. There was no way to keep his examinations quiet. The community would be abuzz with speculation, but it couldn’t be helped.

Nick thanked the Bishop for his invitation to eat and walked toward the lawn where Miriam was sitting. She caught sight of him and rose to her feet. She spoke to Katie Sutter who was sitting beside her. At Katie’s nod of agreement, Miriam left Hannah sleeping on the quilt.

Before he could say good morning, she said, “I expected you hours ago. Hannah got fussy so I took her out of the house during the service and I was able to check all the buggies that are parked beside the barn. I didn’t get a chance to check those parked on the hillside.”

He smiled. “Good morning, Miriam. How are you this fine morning? How is Hannah? Is she keeping you up at night? I hope your mother is feeling well.”

Miriam planted her hands on her hips. “Do you really
want to waste time on pleasantries?”

“It’s never a waste of time to be civil.”

“Fine. Good morning, Nicolas. Of course Hannah is keeping me up at night. She’s a baby and she wakes up wanting to be fed every three hours. My mother is on cloud nine because I came to church with her, and Bella was pouting because she couldn’t come along. Now can we go find the buggy I saw leaving Mom’s place?”

“That’s the plan.” He started walking toward the pasture gate. Several dozen buggies and wagons were parked side by side on the grassy hill. The horses, all still in harness, were tied up along the fence dozing in the morning sun or munching on the green grass at their feet.

Miriam tipped her head toward Nick and asked quietly, “How are you going to do this without attracting attention?”

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